The message of 1 Thessalonians is very clear. Jesus is coming back. And the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night – so we should all be ready, be on watch and be alert!
1 Thessalonians 5 11 Therefore (says Paul) encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
But just what does it mean to encourage one another and build one another up? At the end of this short letter Paul gives some guidelines for the church at Thessalonica. This series of instructions covers just four characteristics of any church who want to be ready when Jesus returns. So what are these four themes?
RESPECT FOR LEADERS
12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
In various places the New Testament urges Christians to respect those who work as God’s servants as ministers or missionaries and to hold them in high regard and esteem. The Early Church clearly expected Christians to follow, and to some degree to obey or submit to those who God had appointed as their leaders.
Hebrews 13:7 says 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
But then Hebrews 13:17 goes on to say, 17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Obedience and submission to authority were part of the life of the Early Church. This is not always the case today. Let me be very clear that I am both appreciative of and humbled by the respect which you all give me as minister of North Springfield Baptist Church. But this by any means the case in every church. The minister is always a servant of the church. But sadly some churches forget that the minister is always ultimately a servant of Christ. The calling of the minister is to enable and equip and prepare all of God’s people to serve God, not to do all the work themselves!
The Anglican Michael Sayward wrote, “Free or independent churches tend to reduce the position of the minister to that of one who fulfils their wishes. It takes a very fine church to avoid that trap, which may be why relatively few exciting reforms have come out of the British Non-Conformist tradition in recent years.” I thank God every day that I serve “a very fine church”!#
When He was Principal of Spurgeon’s College, Paul Beasley-Murray wrote this about the role of pastors as shepherds leading the flock. “Pastors are called to feed the flock, to care for the flock, to seek the lost. But they must never lose sight of the fact that they are called to LEAD the flock. A pastor may delegate the teaching. He may delegate the caring. He may delegate the seeking of the lost. But he cannot delegate the leading. If he does then he is failing in his calling and the church will just go around in circles.”
But then somebody may ask, if the minister is doing the leading, then who does the pastoral care, the visiting, the caring, the supporting. The Bible is clear that the tasks of “pastoral care” are not restricted to the “pastor.” Caring is the job of the whole church – everybody shares in
1 Thessalonians 5 Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
There is a church in USA who use an interesting letterhead. At the top it says, “Pastor – Rev So and So. Ministers – the whole congregation”! Every Christian should play their part by caring for each other.
Live in peace – the unity of the church for which Christ prayed is the principal witness of the church to the disunited, hurting world.
Warn the idle – those lacking in the self-control Paul had talked about in verses 6 and 8. Warn the indisciplined that every Christian should be “pulling their weight” in the life of the church. It is partly the role of the leaders to “admonish” and warn and challenge. But the whole church should be “stirring one another up to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24)
Encourage the timid – we all need encouraging sometimes, and we can all play our part by encouraging other people!
Help the weak – we all need practical help sometimes, and we can all help others in different ways. Remember the old slogan, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”
Be patient with everybody – no get out clause there, everybody, no exceptions!
In all these instructions, Paul is only telling the Thessalonians to do exactly the same things he had done for them.
Remember 1 Thessalonians 2 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Do not repay wrong with wrong – there is a hard command to obey. No revenge, no retaliation, no grudges. But then the day of the Lord is coming when all wrongs will be put right – and we need to be ready!
Try to be kind to each other, and to everybody else. Remember Paul’s earlier challenge to holiness and brotherly love.
1 Thessalonians 4 9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Even there Paul was only repeating what he had written earlier.
1 Thessalonians 3 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you
Love expressed in mutual support – the second characteristic of a church that is ready to meet the Son. And the third is
1 Thessalonians 5 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always! We saw in chapter 1 how the Thessalonians had received the gospel “with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” This is not some vague and abstract call to “be happy.” But an encouragement to delight in our relationship with God and in the happy certainty of the return of Jesus Christ. And we experience that joy often in the context of prayer.
Pray continually. “Seven days without prayer make one week.”
Give thanks in all circumstances. Our lives would be transformed if we were to spend as much time thanking God for all His blessings to us as we do asking God for things!
Paul expands on this encouragement to joyful prayer in
Philippians 4 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Joyful prayer as individuals and joyful prayer as a church together in our prayer meetings and Home Groups and worship services. Respect for leaders, mutual support, joyful prayer and the fourth theme is
OPENNESS TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt
It seems that even in the Early Church there were some people growing deaf to the voice of God. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that God wants to speak to individual Christians and to the church in words of prophecy, messages delivered through the Holy Spirit. This was God’s promise to the church through the prophet Joel.
Acts 2 17 “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
These promises were gloriously fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
So the Holy Spirit who had inspired the Old Testament prophets had been given to ALL believers. And Paul expected spiritual gifts of prophecy to be a part of the life of all churches.
1 Corinthians 14 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
The Bible teaches us that we can still expect God to speak to the church today in words of prophecy, in dreams and visions. As Baptist Christians we should be particularly open to this because we believe and expect that God can speak to us all through any one of us when we gather as the church meeting. I read a fascinating statement the Baptist Union made as long ago as 1948.
“The life of many of our church meetings has been transformed. Instead of being boring business meetings, they are becoming again the occasion when churches as individuals and as a community submit themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and stand under the judgment of God that they might know what is the mind of Christ.”
I am convinced that God’s people can expect Him to guide and lead us and I refuse to put any limitations on the ways in which God may speak to us. Of course we need to exercise discernment.
21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
We need to test messages which seem to come from God against Scripture and by the character of the speaker. But we need to learn to listen to God’s voice and not ignore Him!
When I do a Mission Consultancy for a church on behalf of EBA one of the exercises we do is to consider some of the factors which studies have found to contribute to spiritual and numerical growth of churches. It is no surprise that four of those factors correspond to these four characteristics of churches which are ready for the return of Christ.
Effective leadership – leaders who know how to give vision and direction to the church, and a church who respect those leaders and are eager to follow.
Mobilised membership – a community where each one plays their part supporting one another.
Constant prayer and eventful worship – which express our relationship with God and release His power in us.
Open-ness to God’s Spirit – listening to God in a variety of ways and being prepared to change if God commands it.
Characteristics of a church that is ready to meet the Son. Respect for Leaders. Mutual Support. Joyful Prayer. Open-ness to the Holy Spirit.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
No questions – no doubts there! We WILL be ready to meet the Son – God will see to that!